Interviews, News — November 13, 2012 12:34

Liverpool First Team Doctor Zaf Iqbal Speaks To The Asian Kop

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The Asian Kop had the privilege of catching up with Dr Zaf Iqbal last week and we put some question to the doctor. Iqbal arrived at Anfield in the summer of 2010 when he was appointed as Liverpool’s first-team doctor and is currently the Head of Medicine.

The Pakistan-born doctor is based at the club’s training ground, Melwood and works alongside the medical and sport science team to ensure the medical care of the players.

In this exclusive interview, Liverpool’s first-team doctor speaks on what drew him to the club as a fan, being nutmegged by Kenny Dalglish, his most memorable LFC goal and working as the first team doctor.

The Asian Kop would like to thank Dr Zaf Iqbal for his time and kind hospitality. It was an absolute privilege to meet Dr Zaf Iqbal, a true gentlemen in every sense of the word.

What drew you to Liverpool FC to become a fan?

I started supporting Liverpool from the age of six when I was given a Liverpool kit by a relative and started taking an interest since then. Many of my older relatives were Liverpool FC fans and so I watched Liverpool when ever their games were being screened on TV.

Growing up as a fan, who was your LFC idol and have you met them? Do you remember that moment?

I didn’t have an idol but just loved watching players like Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, John Barnes, Ian Rush and Steve McMannaman to name a but a few.

I’ve been fortunate to have met nearly all the players I used to love watching. Of course working alongside Kenny Dalglish was brilliant and a particular highlight was having the opportunity to play football against him in our regular staff games at Melwood. Even at the age of 60 he was unbelievable and made many of us who were half his age look very foolish. He used to take great delight in nutmegging me and once after I’d sent him flying with a hefty challenge he just picked himself up and back heeled nutmegged me – sheer class.

Look I know I’m not proud of the fact that I barged a 60 year old to the floor and if that was off the pitch I’d probably have been arrested.

Are there any special LFC moments that you still cherish from your days as a supporter?

I remember the double of 1985-1986 but for sheer drama the 2005 Champions League Cup final is difficult to beat. I was watching at a friends house and at half time I was receiving many texts from gloating Man Utd fans. The rest they say is history.

What was the first game you attended as a fan? Do you remember your first impressions of the stadium and the club?

My first game that I attended at Anfield was while I was working at Tottenham Hotspur FC in 2008. I had mixed emotions as I was working for Tottenham Hotspur FC and the professional part of me needed and wanted Tottenham to win. I don’t think I need to describe to anyone the Anfield experience as you can only truly appreciate it if you have been there when the fans are in full voice.

How did the Liverpool job come about?

In 2010 Liverpool FC were revamping the medical department and the head of Sports and Exercise Medicine at the time Dr Peter Brukner was looking for a Dr to work as the First Team Dr and I applied. The aim was to help make up the best Sports and Exercise Medicine team in Football. I’d had a fantastic time at my previous club but the lure of working at Liverpool FC was too great.

What was going through your mind when you were putting pen to paper as the First Team Doctor at Liverpool?

It was a very difficult decision as I was leaving Tottenham Hotspur FC who had qualified for the Champions league for the first time and Liverpool FC was in a precarious position with the ownership issue. I had spoken to several players and staff and don’t regret my decision even though the team has not been as successful over the last couple of seasons as all Liverpool fans would have liked.

If someone said you would end up at the club you supported as a child, what would you have said to them?

My first goal was always to have been a doctor and so I was happy just having initially achieved that. The next step was becoming a Sports Medicine Physician and working in professional sport has been unbelievable.I’d never ever given it any thought that I would one day be working at Liverpool so I’d have understandably found it unbelievable.

What challenges does your job throw up?

It is relentless once the season starts and the challenges are always trying to get as many players available for the manager in the optimum condition for training and matches. The aim is to keep at the forefront of Sports and Exercise Medicine to help the players in every aspect of their health and training. At the start of this season I became the Head of Medicine at Liverpool FC which carries even more responsibility than before. Every day is different and can present different problems and the aim is dealing with them as quickly and effectively as possible.

 Just managing the different characters in the team can be challenging but in a good way. They are always looking to make some the brunt of their jokes so you have to keep your wits about you. You try and be as professional as possible with players but there’s always a few trying pranks to try and wind me up. One particular player plays knock a door run on my office door almost every day and finds it hilarious when he hears me shout for them to come in. I used to find it funny when I was 8 year old.

Signing Medicals are another opportunity for certain players to try and make me uncomfortable by disturbing my train of thought by interrupting the medical with childish comments. The difficulty is that you couldn’t beat them in a prank. I was thrown into the swimming pool once because a few players felt it may help them win games (before anyone gets carried away, it’s not just Pakistanis that get thrown in the pool, it’s anyone irrespective of race!). I was thinking about how to retaliate and then just got a gentle warning that if I did then be prepared to find my car in the swimming pool. I wasn’t sure if they were joking but I didn’t want to find out.

Can you describe your typical day?

The whole medical team meet early in the morning to review all the players and decide the plan for each individual. Following this is a meeting with the coaching staff.

The players then arrive and managed for training or treatment. At the end of the day we have another medical meeting to again discuss all players and decide on further management. Any further investigation or specialist reviews are also arranged usually for the end of the day. Transfer window and pre-season can be very busy with arranging of player medicals at short notice which can take up the majority of the day.

What has been your best day at work so far?

Without sounding sycophantic I enjoy every day coming into work as it’s a fantastic team to work with. The part I enjoy most personally is, knowing you’ve done everything possible to get a player back as quickly as possible. There have been a few instances where you know the medical teams intervention has helped the player and the team. I don’t tend to enjoy games as you are constantly watching the players in case of an emergency or injury. Of course winning game is always nice and winning the Carling Cup with Liverpool was incredible.

Is it ever surreal for you to be in the dressing room and hearing a Liverpool team talk being delivered before a match?

To be honest I see the role as just a job and you have to be professional in all aspects as otherwise I feel it could cloud my judgement in decision making and management.

I’m not overawed in the environment although I love watching the players train as you appreciate their individual skills. I know I’m in a very fortunate position and don’t take it for granted but at same time I feel I’ve earned the right to be there due to the hard work and sacrifices I and my family have had to make.

Where did you watch the 2005 Champions League Final against AC Milan? What were you like after the final whistle?

At my friends house. I still shake my head when watching reruns as I still find it difficult to believe that they did it.

I think I was jumping up and down and screaming hysterically for ages when Dudek saved Shevchenko’s penalty.

Which is the most memorable Liverpool goal you have seen?

Stevie G’s goal against West Ham in the FA Cup Final.

Has there been a particular game in which you have felt the famous Liverpool atmosphere?

It was a night game when I was with Tottenham Hotspur FC playing against Liverpool FC. The crowd were unbelievable as everyone outside Liverpool thought it was Tottenhams best chance of winning at Anfield in a while.Many of Liverpools normal first XI were unavailable. Liverpool won with 2 Dirk Kuyt goals but the atmosphere that night was the best I’ve personally experienced so far.

What makes Liverpool the greatest club to support?

Where does one start. The history, the success, the truly global fanbase.I love the fact that wherever I go around the world there are Liverpool fans passionate about the club.

Does being the first prominent Asian figure at Liverpool FC carry any responsibility?

I’ve always had the belief that if you work hard enough and have the right skill set you can achieve what you want irrespective of your background. I accept that others may see me in my position as a source of inspiration and it is flattering but my parents and family keep me quite grounded and remind me where I’ve come from.

Certainly being at Liverpool has helped in my voluntary work that I have an interest in eg promoting health projects in the South Asian community. My aim is to try and simply be the best Sports Dr I can. Working at Liverpool FC means as you represent the club you have a certain responsibility in your conduct to all who follow the club.

How does it feel that the work you are doing will be part of Liverpool FC History?

Again its not something that I think about. I just want Liverpool to be challenging for the top honours again and hopefully be part of that success for many years to come.

Thank you for your time.

The Oliver King Foundation

Away from his first team duties, Dr Zaf Iqbal is very passionate about The Oliver King Foundation which is a truly worthwhile cause. The foundation was set up after a Oliver King, a 12 year old boy from Wavertree passed away because of SADS  (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome).

SADS can affect people between the ages of 12 and 35 years. It can go undetected but can be picked up by having a simple ECG test.

The Oliver King Foundation and Dr Zaf Iqbal are urging the Government to introduce defibrillators to all public buildings by 2017, and provide staff with the appropriate training. We also call on the Government to offer all people aged between 12 & 35 a simple ECG test, which could reduce the current death rate of 12 young people a week.



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